Scientists Discover the Importance of Dark Matter DNA in Making Rice

Non-coding DNA sequences were previously deemed to have no function.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have discovered the purpose of 'dark matter' DNA, non-coding DNA that previously was deemed to have no function.


"Rice is one of the major global crops and is the staple food in many countries, including Japan," said in a statement Dr. Reina Komiya, senior author of the research paper and associate researcher from the OIST Science and Technology Group. "Further research into how these genomic regions affect plant reproduction could potentially lead to increased productivity and more stable yields of rice."

Many studies focus on genes, the parts of DNA that give instructions for making proteins. But in more complex creatures like plants and animals, a large part of the genome (between 90-98%) doesn't code for proteins.

This large part of the DNA is often called junk DNA and it has confused biologists for years. Many have dubbed it the 'dark matter'. However, more recent studies have suggested that many of these non-coding genomic regions may have functions after all. This gave rise to non-coding RNAs.

Now numerous types of non-coding RNAs have been identified but although studies show that they play a crucial role in the regulation of gene expression, their precise functions still remain elusive. Komiya focuses on reproduction-specific RNAs.

"These are non-coding RNAs that are produced as the reproductive system forms. I wanted to uncover what role they play in the development of stamens and pistils, the male and female reproductive organs in plants." 

"Reproduction is an important phenomenon of passing genetic information to the next generation and is essential for maintaining a stable yield supply. However, development of the reproductive system is complicated, and many aspects remain unknown," concluded Komiya.

"This study shows that non-coding RNAs, derived from regions of the genome that were thought to be non-functional, are vital for plant reproduction. Exploring non-coding RNAs further is an exciting and important area of research," concluded Komiya.

The findings were published today in Nature Communications.

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